Another group presented in my Post-Conflict Justice class yesterday, this time on Somalia. The country has led a lot of headlines lately, primarily because pirates off the coast captured an American ship and took Capt. Richard Phillips hostage. Now that Phillips has returned home and everyone is sure to stop paying attention, the Pentagon has announced that it plans aggressive military action against the pirates. We might as well declare war on sneezing in spring.
Somali piracy is merely a symptom of the massive problems Somalia faces. Despite sharing a common language and ethnicity, the country's rival clans have warred with each other for decades, a trend perpetuated by the western European countries that colonized the Horn of Africa. This didn't get much attention until the 1990s, when the U.S. and U.N. intervened, with good intentions and horrific results. Now, there is anarchy, and a clan formerly known as the Islamic Courts Union, now Al-Shabaab, has moved in to exploit it and place the entire country under Sharia law.
The people of Somalia had not been fed, and we gave them guns. Then other countries, recognizing Somalia's weakness, stole their fish and used their coastline as a toxic waste dump. What, honestly, did we expect? Before we start attacking Somalians again, we would do well to learn from our mistakes. We don't need another Black Hawk Down. Piracy is wrong, and stopping it would be nice, but it won't happen until we address the real causes. These pirates are viewed as heroes in Somalia because they're the one group who can put food on the table. If we go after them now, history will repeat itself and no one will come out ahead.
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